(AP) – Even with the Falcons at Denver, the perfect Vikings hosting Houston, and the unbeaten Eagles returning from their bye to face Detroit, the spotlight is on Cleveland in Week 5. And no, the 0-4 Browns aren’t the attraction. Tom Brady is.
Back from his “Deflategate” four-game suspension, Brady isn’t talking much. Anyone who has watched him win four Super Bowls and two league MVP honors knows how much of an edge he will bring to Sunday’s game.
That might be even sharper after New England was blanked at home by Buffalo following three victories.
Of course, if you seek any wisdom from Foxborough, that’s a dead end. The Browns provided more insight on the quarterback they will face than any of the Patriots managed about Brady.
“I think he is going to come back and just be ready to go. He is a true professional,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden says.
“Whenever he is out on the field, he studies professionally, he knows where he wants to go with the ball and he is confident in his players. Him and his coach, they have been together for so long so they just know each other like the back of their hands. I think that he is going to come back in midseason form.”
If the Browns already are in midseason form, they could be a threat to equal Detroit’s 0-16 season of 2008.
The action began Thursday night with visiting Arizona’s 33-21 victory over San Francisco. Drew Stanton threw two touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald in his first start in two years, David Johnson ran for two scores and the Cardinals (2-3) capitalized on mistakes by San Francisco (1-4).
Stanton played in place Carson Palmer, the Arizona starter sidelined by a concussion.
Off this week are Jacksonville (1-3), New Orleans (1-3), Kansas City (2-2) and Seattle (3-1).
Atlanta (3-1) at Denver (4-0)
Clearly the best matchup this week, the Falcons come off a blowout win over Carolina, which the Broncos barely edged in the season opener. Of course, Denver manhandled the Panthers in the Super Bowl, and its defense is just as good, if not better.
That presents a hefty challenge for the Falcons , whose offense is ranked atop the league, led by Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones. Atlanta has scored 152 points, 38 more than anyone else.
So this is a classic powerful offense vs. dominant defense matchup.
“We don’t want to be the team on the other side of a 500-yard game by Matt Ryan, so it just motivates us to prepare even harder,” Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib says. “It fires us up to go compete against the best. Julio and Matt Ryan are the best right now in the league, so it fires us up to go compete against them.”
Jones returns the compliments when asked about Denver’s secondary, even as he prepares to try to victimize the Broncos.
“Just their whole defense is a great defense, probably one of the best defenses we’re going to face this year,” Jones says. “It’s not more about them, it’s more about us. We’ve got to go there and do what we do. They have great athletes, and definitely in the secondary and their front seven is very, very good. It comes down to us and our execution.”
Houston (3-1) at Minnesota (4-0)
Wow, do the Vikings look good. And whoa, for a first-place team, do the Texans look mediocre.
If it wasn’t for Denver’s outrageous defense, the football world would be in awe of Minnesota’s. Not since 1988 have the Vikings allowed fewer points (50) through four games than this season. They also lead the NFL with a plus-10 turnover margin; their only giveaway was a lost fumble by safety Andrew Sendejo during his own fumble return.
Houston has beaten Chicago, Kansas City and Tennessee in unimpressive fashion, and didn’t show up for its toughest opponent, a 27-0 loss at the Patriots. The Texans’ best player, DE J.J. Watt (back) is gone for the season.
Philadelphia (3-0) at Detroit (1-3)
There’s plenty of eagerness, and a bit of trepidation, in Philly as the Eagles get back on the field. Their fans are thrilled by the quick start behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, but also wonder if it is for real.
Beating Detroit doesn’t prove a lot, but losing to the Lions, even on the road, could be a sign the first three weeks were something of a mirage in Philadelphia.
“Really in my opinion our season starts now,” coach Doug Pederson says. “What we’ve done already is great and we’re in a good position, but we need to buckle down and prepare as if this is Week 1.”
Why has Detroit dropped three in a row? Try ranking second with 370 yards in penalties and third with 39 penalties in total. Plus, the Lions have only one pick and have not recovered a fumble.
Cincinnati (2-2) at Dallas (3-1)
Finally, Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott faces a solid defense. If he passes this test, Dallas might be on to something at quarterback while Tony Romo heals. Prescott has thrown a rookie-record 131 passes without an interception to start his career, tied with Hall of Famer Warren Moon for second overall behind Brady (162).
This one could be decided on the ground. Cincinnati hasn’t allowed a rushing TD this season, while the Cowboys have NFL-leading eight. Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing with 412 yards.
Then again, the Bengals have one of the sport’s most dangerous receivers, A.J. Green, who has two games this season with 10 catches.
New York Jets (1-3) at Pittsburgh (3-1)
One of the worst matchups possible for the reeling Jets: New York trails the overall series 19-5 and is 1-9 in Pittsburgh.
If the Jets don’t tidy up, they could get rocked at Heinz Field. Their 13 turnovers are the most in the NFL and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 10 interceptions lead the league. He’s also 0-4 against the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger’s 11 TD passes are tied for the NFL high with Atlanta’s Ryan, and he is 31-10 in October. His top target, 2015 All-Pro Antonio Brown, has four TD receptions, also tied for the league lead. Running back Le’Veon Bell rolled up 178 yards of total offense in his 2016 debut last Sunday night after serving a three-game suspension.
Washington (2-2) at Baltimore (3-1)
Despite having stadiums a half-hour apart on I-95, these franchises have met only five times in real games. Washington’s last win in Baltimore was in 1955 against the Colts.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh can pass Brian Billick for most regular-season wins in franchise history with 81. He’ll rely on a defense ranked atop the league that has allowed only eight plays of at least 20 yards, fewest in the NFL. With RB Terrance West coming off his best game, Baltimore gets to test the NFL’s second-worst rushing defense, which has yielded eight TDs on the ground and 133 yards rushing per game.
Buffalo (2-2) at Los Angeles (3-1)
Both teams are feeling very good about themselves.
Buffalo comes off a shutout at Foxborough, the first time the Patriots have been blanked in Gillette Stadium. The Bills have won twice since Greg Roman was canned as offensive coordinator and replaced by Anthony Lynn, and they get back DT Marcell Dareus from a four-game suspension for his second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Not only have the Rams won three in a row after an awful opener, they are winning despite ranking dead last in total offense. There’s nothing wrong with the defense, led by Aaron Donald, and if RB Todd Gurley, last year’s top offensive rookie, can get going, Los Angeles might have a contender in its first season back in the NFL.
Tampa Bay (1-3) at Carolina (1-3), Monday night
It would be tempting to bury the loser of this prime-time affair, especially in light of Atlanta’s hot start. And it would be easier to do so with the Buccaneers, who can’t avoid turnovers (nine) and are allowing 32 points an outing.
Carolina figures to need backup QB Derek Anderson with Cam Newton in the NFL’s concussion protocol. What the Panthers really seem to need is rapid development in the secondary; the decision to let Josh Norman leave in free agency has been biting the conference champions.
Anderson isn’t mobile like Newton, and Carolina’s line has allowed 13 sacks.
San Diego (1-3) at Oakland (3-1)
If you want a definition of self-destruction, simply look at the Chargers’ lack of a finishing touch. They have given up 51 points in the first three quarters combined, and 51 points in fourth quarter. San Diego led all four games at the two-minute warning but lost three.
Oakland has won three in a row despite a sieve of a defense. The previous time Oakland was 4-1 was 2002, the season when the Raiders won the AFC title. Placekicker Sebastian Janikowski needs five points to become the 13th player with 1,700 in his career.
Tennessee (1-3) at Miami (1-3)
Both teams have been keeping one eye on Hurricane Matthew while preparing. In a scheduling oddity, the Titans will play a team coming off a longer layoff after playing on a Thursday night for the second straight week; they lost to Houston last Sunday.
Don’t look for much offense here with Tennessee at the bottom of the NFL in scoring with 62 points and Miami unable to run the ball, averaging 61 yards per game. The Dolphins rank last in third-down conversions (27 percent) and tied for 31st with 65 first downs.
New York Giants (2-2) at Green Bay (2-1)
The Pack is back — from a bye. Seeing the Giants would seem to be a good way to return considering how inept New York’s injury-depleted secondary has been. Aaron Rodgers must be eager as all get out to get on the field, but he should remember that the Giants have won two huge games there in the playoffs in 2008 and 2012.
Green Bay is holding opponents to a league-stingiest 1.8 yards rushing per play. The Giants rank 19th running the ball.
The Packers have been vulnerable through the air, though. In their past two outings, they allowed career-best days to Lions WR Marvin Jones (six catches, 205 yards, two TDs) and Vikings WR Stefon Diggs (nine catches, 182 yards, one TD).
Chicago (1-3) at Indianapolis (1-3)
Not too far a drive for Bears fans to make. Why they would want to make it, we don’t know.
Actually, the Bears got off the schneid with their win over Detroit last weekend, and in their only trips to Lucas Oil Stadium, they won the building’s debut game in 2008, and then knocked off the Colts in Andrew Luck’s first game in 2012.
Indy running back Frank Gore needs 20 yards rushing to pass Jim Brown — yes Jim Brown — for No. 9 on NFL’s career list. Adam Vinatieri has made 33 consecutive field goals, three short of his own career best in Indy.
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)